An Overview of Semiconductor Industry Chain and IC

An overview of semiconductor industry chain and IC

Table of Contents

Definition of semiconductor, integrated circuit and chip

A semiconductor is a material whose conductivity is between that of a conductor and an insulator. The most common ones are elemental semiconductors, such as silicon, etc. Later, compound semiconductor materials were developed with technology.

An integrated circuit is a tiny electronic device or component. It is a circuit or system that uses a certain process to interconnect transistors, resistors and other components and wiring required in a circuit, and then encapsulates them in a tube to perform specific functions.

A chip is a way to miniaturize circuits (mainly including semiconductor devices, but also passive components, etc.), and is often fabricated on the surface of a semiconductor wafer.

What are the main products in the semiconductor industry chain?

Semiconductor products are mainly divided into four categories: integrated circuits, discrete devices, optoelectronic devices and sensors.

1. Integrated circuit
An integrated circuit is a tiny electronic device or component.

What are integrated circuits

Integrated circuits are the most important semiconductor products, accounting for more than 80% of all semiconductor products. According to different functions, integrated circuit products can be divided into three categories: analog integrated circuits, digital integrated circuits and digital/analog hybrid integrated circuits.

Digital integrated circuits are mainly used to generate, amplify and process various digital signals. The main products include logic chips, microprocessors and other products.

Analog integrated circuits are mainly used to generate, amplify and process various analog signals, and the products include signal chain and power management products.

2. Discrete devices
Discrete devices refer to independent components that are not packaged into integrated circuits and exist alone in the form of diodes, transistors, resistors, capacitors, etc. Products generally refer to semiconductor crystal diodes, semiconductor triodes, power transistors and other semiconductor discrete devices.

3. Optoelectronic devices

Optoelectronic devices
Optoelectronic devices are various functional devices made using the electro-photon conversion effect. Optoelectronic devices mainly include photoconductive devices that use the photosensitive properties of semiconductors, photovoltaic cells that use semiconductor photovoltaic effects, and semiconductor light-emitting devices.

4. Sensor
A sensor is a detection device, which can sense the measured information and convert the sensed information into a usable signal according to a certain rule. The sensor is generally composed of four parts: sensitive element, conversion element, conversion circuit and auxiliary power supply.

Global semiconductor industry chain division

For a semiconductor product, one end is production and manufacturing, representing the supply side; the other end is marketing and sales, representing the demand side.

Corresponding to the semiconductor industry chain, we can divide it into:
1. Upstream semiconductor support industry chain
The semiconductor support industry chain mainly includes EDA, IP, semiconductor materials, semiconductor equipment, etc. Among them, EDA and IP are mainly auxiliary tools in the design process, while semiconductor materials and equipment are tools in the manufacturing process.

(1) EDA and IP
EDA is the industrial software for IC design and production. Among them, manufacturing EDA tools are used in the process platform development stage and wafer production stage. Design EDA tools are used in the design stage of integrated circuits.

EDA tools for IC design

In the reusable design methodology of integrated circuits, IP core refers to a reusable module provided by a certain party in the form of logic units and chip designs. In layman’s terms, the IP core refers to some circuit functional modules that have been designed and verified in practice with specific functional performance optimization. According to the degree of completion, IP cores are mainly divided into soft cores, hard cores and solid cores.

The soft core is a functional block described by a hardware description language such as VHDL, but it does not involve any specific circuit components to realize these functions. Soft core does not depend on the final implementation process, so it has great flexibility. Users can easily shoot it onto the craft they use, with the highest reusability.

The solid core is that after the RTL program is simulated, the corresponding logic gates are selected from the cell library through synthesis, and converted into a netlist file presented in the form of logic gate cells. The solid core is between the soft core and the hard core, and it is generally submitted in the form of a gate-level netlist.

After the netlist file is verified, the GDSII file generated after layout planning and layout routing is called the hard core. The hard core has the least flexibility and the lowest reusability. But because the hard core is immutable, it has the most stable performance and the highest reliability.

(2) Semiconductor materials and equipment
Semiconductor materials are the material basis of the semiconductor industry chain, and the performance of its materials affects the performance of the final product.

Semiconductor materials

Semiconductor materials are mainly used in wafer manufacturing and chip packaging. From the bare wafer to the finished chip, there are hundreds of special process steps such as oxidation, sputtering, photolithography, etching, ion implantation, and packaging. According to the manufacturing process, semiconductor materials can be mainly divided into wafer manufacturing materials and chip packaging materials.

Among them, wafer manufacturing materials include silicon wafers, photoresists, photoresist supporting reagents, wet electronic chemicals, electronic gases, CMP polishing materials, and targets, etc. Chip packaging materials include packaging substrates, lead frames, resins, bonding Wire, solder ball, and electroplating solution, etc.

Semiconductor equipment is mainly dedicated equipment for the production of related semiconductor products. For example, the lithography machine we are familiar with is one of the core semiconductor equipment, which is mainly used in lithography. Semiconductor equipment is mainly divided into oxidation furnace, coating and developing equipment, photolithography machine, etching machine, ion implantation machine, cleaning equipment, quality testing equipment, electrical testing equipment, CMP equipment, CVD equipment, PVD equipment, etc.

Semiconductor equipment

2. Midstream semiconductor manufacturing industry chain
The semiconductor manufacturing industry chain is the core link of the semiconductor industry chain. Because integrated circuits are the most important semiconductor products, and integrated circuits are basically manufactured according to “IC design-IC manufacturing-IC packaging and testing”, the midstream semiconductor manufacturing industry chain is generally divided according to this form:

(1) Manufacturing process of the semiconductor manufacturing industry chain

IC design is transformed into physical design layout through the research and design of integrated circuit system, logic, circuit and performance.

In IC manufacturing, for wafer production, the design layout is used to make a photomask, and the circuit pattern is presented on the wafer by multiple photolithography methods, and finally a three-dimensional circuit is formed on the surface/inside of the wafer.

The IC manufacturing process is specifically divided into two parts: wafer manufacturing and wafer processing.

ic manufacturing process

Wafer manufacturing refers to the process of gradually manufacturing monocrystalline silicon wafers using silicon dioxide raw materials. It mainly includes silicon purification -> polysilicon manufacturing -> crystal pulling -> cutting and grinding, etc., and the corresponding equipment is melting furnace, CVD equipment, single crystal furnace and slicer, etc.

Wafer processing refers to the process of constructing a complete integrated circuit chip on the preparation of wafer materials, mainly including several major processes such as coating, photolithography, etching, ion implantation, etc.

IC packaging and testing is a general term for IC packaging and IC testing. IC packaging mainly cuts, seals and packs the processed wafers to protect the dies and form chip products. The test is mainly to detect the reliability, stability and other performance of the chip.

(2) The operation mode of the semiconductor manufacturing industry chain

There are two main modes of operation in the semiconductor industry, namely the IDM mode and the vertical division of labor mode. As mentioned above, the entire semiconductor manufacturing process mainly includes three major links: IC design, IC manufacturing and IC testing.

The IDM model, that is, a manufacturer independently completes the above three links, has extremely high requirements on the company’s R&D capabilities, design capabilities, and production capabilities. Intel and Samsung are the most representative IDM companies in the world.

idm semiconductor

Another model is the vertical division of labor, that is, Fabless (design company without wafer manufacturing) + Foundry (wafer foundry) + OSAT (packaging and testing company).

Fabless refers to those companies that focus on IC design, only responsible for the circuit design and sales of chips, and outsourcing the production, packaging and testing of wafers to other companies. Representative companies include Qualcomm, Nvidia, AMD, etc.

Foundry is a wafer foundry which is only responsible for one or more links of manufacturing, packaging and testing, and is not responsible for chip design. The more well-known companies include TSMC and SMIC.

OSAT refers to companies specializing in semiconductor packaging and testing.

3. Downstream semiconductor application fields

semiconductor application
The application fields of semiconductors mainly include consumer electronics such as mobile phones and computers; industrial fields such as robots and automotive electronics; computing fields such as high-performance computing, parallel computing, and storage; and communication fields such as mobile phones, base stations, satellites, and cables.

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